A question posed and answered (at least provisionally) by Alan Hirsch this past week: So, what on earth is the church? Discussion follows his blog post, but here’s my take.

First, I was reminded of Rick Warren’s 5 purposes of the church, but only briefly. As it stands, I have a half-conceived post about how Rick Warren got it fundamentally wrong even with all (or most of) the right terms involved. I hope to offer more on that soon, but the wrongness has to do with structure and basic impetus, incorrect underlying assumptions… ones which by my reading, Alan doesn’t share.

Alan’s definition of what constitutes church is helpful, but it may need to be said that if an aspect or two is missing you might have an unhealthy church… but still a church. It does distinguish between a church and a social club though. I agree that some form of guideline-style definition is necessary, else there’s no corrective guide to staying on course. I hesitate to use such definitions to determine success or failure though, as it tends to lead to census-taking unless “success” is deliberately defined very differently.

As Alan puts it,

So what’s in a definition? Actually the way we define church is crucial because it gives us a direct clue to the critical elements of authentic Christian community. It also highlights for us the major responses that constitute Christian spirituality, namely worship, discipleship, and mission. We will be weighed up by God on the basis of the innate purpose of the church and thus our capacity to

  1. Center our common life on Jesus (see post on this)
  2. Cultivate covenant community
  3. Make disciples: people who are learning how, and what it means, to become Christlike.
  4. Engage in his mission to the world: which is our mission (his purposes flow through us) and,
  5. The authenticity, depth and breadth, of our worship.

So basically, he sees the definition as foundational, and I’m hard-pressed to disagree. I would however posit that each of these five facets of the definition requires its own discussion to further outline what would be considered “successful” or “working”, as a supposition of what each means is likely (IMHO) to lead to a definition based in the ways of the inherited church which we’re seeking to rework. Alan’s point 5 is particularly subjective and would require a fair bit of fleshing out.

Having said all of that, I think that not only is a definition is helpful, but Alan’s got a good start on it. With a bit more fleshing out of the points, we should have something here. I see no glaring omissions (as yet) nor see anything that definitely doesn’t belong. If anything — and this is for some further thought — there’s overlap, but that may not be a huge issue… the question is whether to distill it down further. Come to think of it, maybe I could get it down to a single sentence: “Live your faith, share your life.” ;^)

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